Ditch “The Three Questions” And Adopt The Agile Mindset Already

Ditch “The Three Questions” And Adopt The Agile Mindset Already

Scrum teams that have been using Scrum for a while are most likely settling into the new framework. The chaos and dust from the change has settled and things are normalizing a bit. However, each team has their own unique way of doing things and, from the outside, managers may be holding onto their “command and control” mindset. Shouldn’t a process, like the daily scrum, be repeatable and look the same for all teams? Perhaps their mentality is that Scrum is a “methodology” and it should be strictly adhered to vs. a light weight framework in the “Agile toolbox?” Maybe they’re too focused on accountability of individuals vs. team autonomy? Whatever the cause, the Agile mindset just hasn’t quite set in yet. With a little bit of coaching, they’ll get there. Exercise patience.

One thing I’ve observed from leaders who haven’t quite fully adopted the Agile mindset yet is their insistence on strict adherence to “The Three Questions” during the daily scrum. There exists a feeling that “Vanilla Scrum” is the best way to do Scrum (There’s no such things as ‘Vanilla Scrum’ by the way). There’s a perception that the best way to do Scrum is to make everyone answer the three questions:

  1. “What did you do yesterday?”
  2. “What will you do today?”
  3. “Do you have any impediments?”

While I agree that the scrum guide can be prescriptive at times, the three questions listed above are not, in fact, mandatory. Seriously, read the section on the Daily Scrum and then come back.

Welcome back. So now that everyone’s educated, let’s talk about creativity. There’s a lot of room for creativity from each team and every individual. The Scrum Guide tells us “What we should do,” however, each team is left to figure out “How best to do it.” The format of the daily scrum is no different and there’s a lot of room for creative and constructive discussion questions. Strict adherence to the three questions can become an impediment to communication.

When speaking to your leaders, it’s usually not a good idea to open the scrum guide and show them where they’re wrong. It’s not very tactful and you miss a great opportunity to make the conversation a teachable moment.

When discussing this with leaders, start by asking some simple questions. I usually start with, “what does ‘vanilla scrum’ look like to you?” Their answer will likely reveal one of two things.

  1. Focus on the process; or
  2. Focus on individual accountability.

It makes sense, doesn’t it? As a manager, their ability to reliably deliver products, services, or projects is a reflection on their ability to lead their unit. Managers are accountable to stakeholders, customers, and their bosses. Yes, managers have bosses too. It’s pretty simple when we put ourselves in their shoes and I think we can empathize with their position. It can be a great deal of stress. Management isn’t for the weak of heart.

Yes, managers have bosses too.

Creativity Over Strict Processes

Command and control via processes can be effective. Set up a process. Follow the process. Repeat. But at what cost? I’d argue at the cost of creativity. I’d argue at the cost of low employee engagement. I’d argue complete and utter mediocrity. Of course I’m not advocating for zero processes either. That would be irresponsible. The people and process dependency is a balancing act, but let’s not rehash that discussion.

My recommendation would be to challenge the manager’s perspective about creativity and engagement. They may say they value it, but their actions may speak differently. Perhaps they view the daily scrum as a status report? That’s an anti-pattern you don’t want to have. Trust me. Been there. Done that. Got the t-shirt.

Scrum shouldn’t be “standardized across all teams.” If the pain point of the organization is variable quality and unreliable delivery, Scrum won’t fix that for you. But if you allow creativity to happen, then your employees will become engaged. And engaged employees who are empowered can move mountains. They’ll fix things on their own because at the end of the day, everyone wants to go home at five thirty, have a beer and spend quality time with their family. It’s the mindset, not the framework that we should strive for. Intrinsic motivation, not another carrot.

Responsibility Over Individual Accountability

I’m not advocating for zero accountability. Again, that would be irresponsible. But, the need to hold people accountable for their actions is another “command and control-ism” and it makes people fearful for their jobs. As a result, it stifles creativity and people will do just enough to stay of the RADAR and out of trouble. This is a much tougher problem to address because a manager focused on “holding people accountable” likely suffers the same from their own management. We can all empathize with our managers on this. Just like us, they’re subject to the same influences of organizational culture. As a coach, you must be courageous enough to address this with everyone in the organization, especially when another witch hunt is just around the corner. Are we trying to figure out who put crappy code into production? Or are we trying to figure out how crappy code got into production? You see the difference? The first question is about assigning blame. The second question is about addressing a problem. Stop with the witch hunts. People make mistakes. It’s a part of doing business.

My recommendation would be to re-frame the conversation around responsibility. Accountability is for Product Owners who must own the success or failure of a project. They are the single wring-able neck. However, responsibility can be shared and is something reserved for teams who share the responsibility of managing risk, keeping on schedule, staying within scope, and producing quality work. Product Owners are accountable for the overall performance of the project and guiding the team with a product road map. The Product Owner provides the what. The Team provides the how.

Stopping the flow of communication so they neatly fit the mold of the three questions can introduce risks into the project. It jeopardizes the quadruple constraint (Scope, Schedule, Cost, and Quality). So let your team discuss the sprint goal. Let your teams talk about the future beyond the next 24 hours. Let them self-organize in a way that’s most comfortable for them. They’re responsible for delivery — have the courage to step back so they deliver.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on the daily scrum or the anti-patterns you’ve recently spotted. If you’d like to have a discussion, leave a comment below or contact me. Feel free to connect with me on social media as well!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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The People and Process Balancing Act

Agile Leaders Understand Customer Service And Culture

The People And Process Balancing Act

The Agile Manifesto Teaches Individuals and Interactions Over Processes and Tools

There’s a common misconception, especially among those new to Agile, that the relationship between people and processes is one of friction — that it’s a dichotomy. The subtlety of the language used, “individuals and interactions over processes and tools” implies that both need to exist. The framers of the Agile Manifesto even state, “while there is value in the items on the right (Processes and Tools), we value the items on the left more (Individuals and Interactions).” I agree with this and would also argue that processes and tools are an input to productive interactions among individuals. We know what is more valuable according to the Agile manifesto but, which one is most important? People or Processes? Maybe we’re thinking about it all wrong?

Chinks In The Armor

Asking, “what’s more important, people or processes?” is a fair question to ask when you’re new to Agile. Especially since most organizations looking to “go Agile” start with Scrum (by the way, practicing Scrum does not mean you are Agile. It’s a great start as long as the leadership team continues to stay open minded and doesn’t limit the organization to just Scrum). Usually, a handful of developers, project managers, business analysts and line of business managers are sent to a two-day class scrum class; they receive a certificate dubbing them newly minted “Certified Scrum Masters/Product Owners/Developers” and are given a small project to show a “proof of concept” with the

storm trooper
Scrum Reveals The Chinks in the Armor

new framework. It’s chaotic and exciting at the same time; however, the organization’s weaknesses begin to show up (Scrum has a way of shedding the spot light on the problems that have existed in the organization for a long time). I call these the “chinks in the armor.”

The biggest chink I’ve seen most teams discuss in their retrospectives are the People vs Process Dependencies. Invariably, team members and managers dig in their heels about which one is better. This is because people default to what they know best. They use what has worked for them in the past. Change is hard, even when there’s clear evidence that what they’ve been doing will not work anymore because of changes in the business environment.

As a coach, it’s important to understand the pros and cons of the people and process dependencies. It should be explained clearly with not only your teams but, with the management team too. The organization will have to move past striking a balance and figuring out which areas need the most improvement. Instead, they should assess the parts of each dependency and figure out what works best for them today. Below are some extreme examples of each dependency to illustrate the pros and cons of both.

People Dependency

Pros

  1. It gives workers satisfaction – employees feel satisfied when they know they are valued
  2. Flexible – employees are empowered to perform work in the way they feel is best
  3. Adaptable – the ability to pivot and make changes is the hallmark of business agility
  4. Efficient – unnecessary steps in a process are avoided
  5. Helps to retain high-achieving, confident, people – people stick around because they know they are important and are good at their job

Cons

  1. Less repeatability – changing processes are not repeatable and leads to waste
  2. Makes customers nervous – customers feel comfortable when there’s visibility on the process
  3. Can provide a “false sense” of a high degree of control – processes are measurable. What get’s measured gets done. When managers rely solely on the self-reporting, certain messages may get filtered and there is no data to verify.
  4. Turnover impacts are much greater – institutional knowledge can walk out the door or get hit by a bus
  5. Higher risks – for the reasons listed above

Process Dependecy

Pros

  1. Repeatability – repeatability helps with predictability
  2. Easier to improve – a documented process is easier to improve with less risk to the organization
  3. Less people dependent – automation of easily repeatable tasks frees up resources for more value added activities
  4. Predictability – it can be measured objectively and relied on as a lever for control in the organization
  5. Brings new personnel up to speed faster and with less risk of poor performance

Cons

  1. Paperwork can overshadow the task – processes that are overly complex distract from value added work
  2. Resources must be spent enforcing or ensuring compliance – managerial debt is incurred. Managers spend less time removing impediments and more time micromanaging processes.
  3. Someone must own and manage the process
  4. Less “thinking” is needed – employees and managers can become complacent if there’s no impetus for process improvement. This leads to waste. 

Processes Come First But They Should Not Be Valued

I know I’m going to rub a few people in the Scrum community the wrong way (and probably piss of a few of the business process analysts too) But, processes should come first but they should not be valued in the same way we value our people and interactions. It’s easy for managers to regard processes as instruments for control. Some managers finely craft their business processes. They labor over them and build complex systems for the organization. But only effective processes facilitate people. Not complex ones. If you require a practical rule of me, I recommend you murder your darlings.

“Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings”

— Arthur Quiller-Couch,

On the Art of Writing

vintage scale.jpg
People and Processes Are Not Equal

I argue that people and processes should not balance each other. Many representations of this balancing act builds a false dichotomy. It implies that they are of equal value. Like the framers of the Agile Manifesto, I do not value them the same way.

Processes should support our people and facilitate their interactions. Processes are either operational, supporting, or management oriented. If they do not provide value. Murder them. It’s up to the teams to decide which processes they need most and which ones can be forgotten. Each organization is different. Each darling should be judged accordingly — but retain the ones that still add value. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water. Don’t assume that just because you’re “doing Agile” that processes no longer needed to exist. No, processes are still important. They unlock your people’s ability to work at a higher level. But it’s time to end the love affair with processes and value your people.

Share your thoughts in a comment below. If you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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Six Elements of An Effective Strategy

 

 

 

Six Elements Of An Effective Strategy

Back to Basics: The Six Elements Of An Effective Strategy

Developing a strategy ready for execution is one of the most difficult tasks facing organizations. Global commerce is no longer reserved for the “titans of industry.” Small to medium sized enterprises are now operating in the global economy and other than resource constraints, the playing field is generally even for anyone with quality services and products. Understanding the basics of an effective strategy is more important than ever.

“Going back to basics strengthens your foundation”

Money, people, and time are finite resources and should be used wisely. When developing a new strategy or enhancing an existing one, leaders must understand there are three value areas that a strategy should address before proceeding.

  1. Improving Operational Performance
  2. Improving Customer Service
  3. Exploiting New Opportunities

Understanding the three value areas enables leaders to establish priorities based on business goals. Additionally, as a new initiative is developed and acted on, the tactical needs must be met while the organization continues moving forward. Long story short, understand your business needs & do not disrupt operations. 

The Six Elements Of An Effective Strategy

Element 1 – Continuation Of Policy

Formulating an effective strategy means understanding the landscape you operate in and and those affected by your decisions. Policies are both external and internal.

  • External policies are the laws and industry standards your organizations must follow. External policies mandate what an organization must adhere to and can include international, federal, and state laws.
  • Internal policies are an organization’s vision and mission. They must be aligned with an organization’s core competencies and value chain. Internal policy should be easily understood by everyone in the organization. A good litmus test is, “can our policy be described in three sentences or less and does it address the way we operate, how we treat our customers, and capture new markets?”

Element 2 – Overcoming Adversarial Competition

Understand those who operate in your market and either directly or indirectly oppose your progress. Leaders need to understand their competition, their internal policies, and value stream. Leaders should be honest when assessing the weaknesses of their own organizations and compare themselves as objectively as possible. Weaving fantasies about the competition or the competencies of your own organization leads to bad decision making. Entrepreneurs of small to medium sized organizations are especially prone to fantasy based thinking. While optimism is a good quality for successful entrepreneurship, it is not the basis for effective strategy formulation.

“If from your strategy you can’t identify anything that you would say no to, it’s probably not a good strategy.”
– Karl Scotland

Element 3 – Account For The Talent Gap

Organizational leaders and tactical managers must understand the skills required so the policy can move forward and succeed. An actionable strategy accounts for the talent gap. Unfortunately, HR departments lack the ability to close the skills gap — either through recruitment & retention efforts or training & development. Leaders must develop a roadmap for developing & recruiting the required skills for strategy execution.

Element 4 – Impetus & Focus

Firm understanding of the corporate culture and the attitudes required of those operating internally of the organization helps leaders gauge how well employees and the tactical management will readily adopt the strategy. Experienced leaders understand culture and attitudes are not specifically ‘defined’ — they evolve over time and accumulate based on whom the organization hires. The following considerations should be made when creating your strategy and roadmap.

  • Who are our external customers?
  • How well do our employees treat our external customers?
  • How well do we treat our employees?
  • When we’ve implemented change in the past, does the leadership team “walk the walk” or just walk around with a “big stick?”
  • Is company culture a strong consideration when hiring new employees?
  • Do we invest enough in training and fostering the growth of our talent?
  • How well do we on-board our new hires?
  • How well do we evaluate performance and customer satisfaction?
  • Do we provide opportunities for growth?
  • Do our employees feel empowered to make decisions and take ownership of the issues or are there silos in our organization?

Element 5 – Communicate The Guiding View Into The Future

Everyone wants to understand where their organization is moving and what the organization wants to accomplish. This has a strong influence on the decisions, priorities, and the way work is accomplished from day-to-day. Return to the internal policy established in the first element and re-write it in a way that everyone in the organization can easily understand. Fold in your vision statement in a way that makes sense and adopt it as the organization’s mantra. Consistently communicate the mantra across all mediums. It’ll eventually stick and influence your culture.

“The mantra should describe the way we operate, how we treat our customers, and communicate the guiding view into the future”

Element 6 – Measure

The above elements are all aimed at creating a strategy that can respond quickly to change. Many refer to this as business agility — starting with intention and pivoting over the long-term as internal or external factors require. Leaders should track what was intended, what emerged, and what was realized and adjust their strategy accordingly. The company culture and your talent gap will most likely cause you to lag behind emergent strategies, however, measuring the progress over time is useful because it can help you refine your strategies in the future. The below figure illustrates my point. Each black dot represents an environmental change and the green lines are the emergent strategies (E1, E2, E3). The red line lags behind, this is what is realized.

PlannedVsEmergentStrategy

The outcomes that should be measured are:

  1. Operational Performance
    • Time to Produce
    • Cost Savings
    • Quality
  2. Customer Service
    • Time to Delivery
    • Value Delivered to Customers
    • Customer Satisfaction
  3. New Opportunities
    • Time to Market
    • Return on Investment
    • Addressing Unserved Needs

Leave your thoughts on strategy in a comment below or if you’d like to have a discussion, please contact me or connect with me on social media!

Photo Credit: Pixabay

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Sources

Agile Leaders Understand Customer Service And Culture

Transforming A Culture Is No Easy Task

Developing a strategic plan to promote internal and external customer service is no easy task. The role of organizational culture, the forces effecting the culture, understanding who the internal and external customers are, and identifying the key objectives required for effective customer service will help an organization meet specific goals: Develop an internal customer service culture, effectively train all employees who interact with the external customers, provide information to customers that is useful and relevant using the communication methods they desire, and developing or enhancing a means to follow-up with customers.

What Is Culture And The Forces Of Influence?

A corporate culture “refers to the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions” (Investopedia, 2017). Culture is usually implied and not specifically ‘defined’ – as it organically evolves over time and accumulates traits based on whom the organization hires, it’s dress code, office setup, benefits, turnover, and client satisfaction based on operations or the artifacts the organization produces.

Aristotle said, “We are what we repeatedly do.” In general, his view indicates that repeated behaviors or habits are the core of a culture. What people feel, think or believe are the perceptions and ultimately the forces shaping our behaviors.

It is important to direct our efforts and identify the forces that shape our behaviors within our organizations and their relation to customer service. Describing the current and desired forces will assist with accurately capturing the thoughts, beliefs, and perceptions of the organizational structure and the incentives that deliver positive customer interactions by cultivating the desired culture of customer service.

Define The Customers: External vs. Internal

The distinction between internal and external customers isn’t always clear, however, we will can use an academic perspective for the purpose of this discussion.

External Customers look to “exploit artefacts[sic] produced by the organization with specific requirements and specifications” (Hobbs, 2016). External customers are essential to the success of the organization as it operates to produce the artifacts specified by external customers.

Internal customers are all members of the organization who rely on assistance from each other to fulfill their duties in the production of artifacts specified by the external customers.

Forces Of Influence And Customer Satisfaction

Customer satisfaction doesn’t start with the customer. It starts ‘in-house,’ with the employees, incentives, and programs within the organization. Employee recognition programs, cultural expectations set during on-boarding, opportunities for training (both formal and informal), competencies measured during appraisals, and policies are all forces that influence the organization’s culture and affect customer satisfaction.

Agility Starts Start At The Top

An organization’s leadership team must set the tone and embody the practices themselves. It’s not about setting expectations – it’s about ‘practicing what they preach’ and treating employees the way they want the customer to be treated. Additionally, leaders “must make the measurement of service quality and feedback from the customer a basic part of everyone’s work experience” (Morrow, 2000). The Agile organization embodies these beliefs because the leadership is passionate about practicing what they preach. Leaders set the tone. 

Agile Organizations Hire For The Culture

Organizations like Zappos, a leading online retailer for the shoe industry, is well known for starting with a “cultural fit interview, which carries half the weight of whether the candidate is hired” (Patel, 2015) by offering $2,000 to quit after the first week of training if the candidate decides the job isn’t for them. Zappos instills their ‘ten core values’ on each of their employees and dedicates a portion of their budget to employee team building and promotion of its values and culture. The idea is, when the organization gets the culture right, great customer service and brand recognition will evolve organically on its own. Agile organizations are infectious with their values.

Additionally, it may be necessary to remove any employees who do not show the behaviors required to foster positive customer interactions. Often, organizations allow employees who work with external customers to remain on the job when they are not suited for the position. “If employees don’t want to serve the customer in the best possible way, document their behaviors and use the information to help them change or to move them from areas away from interactions with external customers” (Morrow, 2000). It only takes one bad apple to ruin the bushel.

Agile Organizations Invest In Training

Formal training in customer service is a good starting point, however, organizational leadership should reframe its’ thinking and recognize that training extends beyond a mandatory class taken once a year. Training employees, again, is a top-bottom approach. Organizational leadership, managers, and supervisors should always be training their employees, offering guidance and coaching each other and their subordinates on a continual and iterative basis relative to informal or formal training initiatives respectively.

Agile Organizations Effectively On-board New Hires

Effectively setting expectations and training employees starts with the organization’s on-boarding process. On-boarding new hires is the organization’s first opportunity to set expectations, provide examples of excellent customer service observed by past and current employees, and explain how the culture affects customer service in the respective industry.

Agile Organizations Evaluate Performance And Customer Satisfaction

Work Performance Standards and employee performance reviews are another opportunity to evaluate the effectiveness of the organization’s customer service initiatives. When employees are appraised on customer satisfaction as part of their work performance standards, they will be motivated to meet and exceed customer service standards as they are clearly measurable and defined. Performance reviews provide feedback to the employee regarding their competency in customer service within their organization and helps align the employee with the expectations, standards, and behaviors that are expected within the culture. “Using customer satisfaction as a measure of on-the-job success is one of the surest ways to guarantee great service” (Johnson C., 2015). What gets measured gets done.

Agile Organizations Provide Opportunities For Growth

Providing exceptional customer service to every customer every time is an unreasonable expectation – no one person is fully equipped to know the best possible solution that fits a customer’s needs in the best possible way. It’s important for leaders to recognize that mistakes do happen. However, addressing these mistakes and making them opportunities to learn not only helps the employee grow and gain improved competencies in customer service, but improves the organization’s overall readiness to meet similar challenges and issues experienced when addressing customer concerns or demands. Transparency is the key to success when mistakes are made, though they should be handled tactfully so as not to embarrass the employee or customer(s), as they help all members of the organization learn from the mistakes made so as not to repeat them.

Agile Organizations Encourage Ownership Of The Issue(s)

Employees that feel empowered to make decisions will take ownership of the issues challenging internal and external customers. Conversely, employees who worry about job security protect themselves first. When employees feel insecure about their jobs, they will hesitate to take ownership of issues. When shaping an organizational culture, it is important for employees to feel trusted and empowered to make decisions regarding the issues faced by customers without fear of repercussion.

Agile Organizations Develop Policies That Encourage Empowerment

Establish policies that are customer-centric and show concern for customer needs. Eliminate “routine and rigid policies and guidelines and strive to be an organization that is easy to do business with” (Morrow, 2000). Customer service is not the sole responsibility of the Customer Service Department; it is an organizational effort and policies that facilitate this empower all employees to deliver exceptional customer service.

Agile Organizations Reward High Performers

Reward employees for the behaviors you wish to cultivate. Cash incentives and bonuses are great, however, there are other ways to let an employee know they have done a good job. Extra time off, an article in the organization’s newsletter, a trophy awarded at a recognition dinner, tickets to special events, or even hand written notes are ways to reward behaviors you wish to see more of.

Identify the Objectives of Customer Service

The organization should identify the primary objectives in customer service. Below are some quantitative and qualitative examples that can trickle into an employee’s work performance standards and performance reviews.

  1. “Determine whether the organization is providing a satisfactory service to its customers” (West, 2017).
  2. Confirm that the requirements of the customer have not changed
  3. “Individual Customer Service Performance” (Vulpen, 2017).
  4. “Employee Satisfaction” (Liebenberg, 2004).
  5. Provide your organization with an objective evaluation of customer satisfaction and/or dissatisfaction.
  6. Level of knowledge of the problem(s).
  7. Identify areas for improvement.

Organizational Culture is difficult to define, however, recognizing the forces that influence your culture will aid in its’ refinement. The best culture makes all employees feel safe and welcome and it should grow organically to fit the needs of external and internal customers alike. It should be adjusted if it causes the organization to end up with homogenized employees who think and act the same. “Trust in your employees goes a long way towards a positive organizational culture, because trust leads to independent employees who help the organization grow” (Patel, 2015).

Share your company culture by leaving a comment or connecting with me. Follow me on social media and let’s have a conversation.

Photo Credit

Sources

Hobbs, B. &. (2016). Projects with internal vs. external customers: An empirical investigation of variation in practice. International Journal of Project Management Volume 34, Issue 4, 675 – 687.

Investopedia. (2017, April 11). Corporate Culture. Retrieved from Investopedia: http://www.investopedia.com/terms/c/corporate-culture.asp

Johnson C., R. (2015, July 8). 5 Ways Corporate Culture Affects Your Customer’s Experience. Retrieved from smallbizdaily: http://www.smallbizdaily.com/5-ways-corporate-culture-affects-customers-experience/

Liebenberg, J. &. (2004). Factors Influencing a Customer-Service Culture in a Higher Education Environment. Journal of Human Resrouce Management Issue 2 (2) , 1-10.

Morrow, P. (2000, August 2). Eight Keys to Creating a Customer Service Culture. Retrieved from Inc.: https://www.inc.com/articles/2000/08/20028.html

Patel, S. (2015, August 6). 10 Examples of Companies with Fantastic Cultures. Retrieved from Entrepreneur: https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/249174

Vulpen, E. V. (2017, January 4). How 11 Factors Influence Customer Service Performance. Retrieved from Analytics in HR: https://www.analyticsinhr.com/blog/factors-influencing-customer-service-performance/

West, K. (2017, April 13). Customer Satisfaction Surveys and Your Business. Retrieved from National Business Research Institute: https://www.nbrii.com/blog/customer-satisfaction-surveys-and-your-business/